The Seven Churches part b
The Churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
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1 The Church in Sardis is called to wake up and strengthen what remains. Their reputation is not true and they have become spiritually dead.
2 But yet they have a faithful few who walk in righteousness. Their name is written in the book of life.
3 The Church of Philadelphia have been given great authority in Christ Jesus. They have little strength but have kept his word and not denied his name.
4 They have endured patiently and will be protected. They will be pillars in the temple of God.
5 The Church in Laodicea is lukewarm and unpalatable. They believe they are rich but they do not know how wretched they are. They are counseled to buy gold refined in the fire.
6 Yet Jesus urges them to repent. He knocks on the door and yearns to commune with them.
The Church in Sardis
Sardis was a wealthy city built on a steep hill with natural defences. However, the city had been captured twice in its history, firstly by Cyrus the Persian and then by Antiochus. The city was taken easily both times because guards had not been set on the watchtowers.
The city had steep cliffs on three sides and so the fourth side that held the gates were guarded the most. However, the cliffs were made of mud and cracks had formed in them. The story is told that a guard on the walls accidentally dropped his helmet over the side and it became lodged half-way down. A soldier from the opposing army, who were camped outside, noticed the route the guard took to retrieve the helmet. In the middle of the night the soldier led a small team up the cliffs by the same path and took the unguarded city by surprise.
Some are at pains to point out that the eroding walls of mud allude to the erosion of sound theology in a vulnerable church.
Sadly, the city did not learn its lesson and was conquered a second time in a similar fashion. The city was ostensibly secure but yet betrayed by a false sense of security.
Revelation 3:1 ‘You have a reputation for being alive but you are dead’.
This church receives no commendations from Jesus but rather he reveals her true spiritual state. The lack of hardship or persecution has caused her to fall into complacency and convenience.
Caird commented scathingly: ‘The church of Sardis was too innocuous to be worth persecuting’.
Watchman Nee commented sharply that a noisy church is not necessarily a spiritual church!
‘The eroding walls of mud allude to the erosion
of sound theology in a vulnerable church.‘
Revelation 3:2 ‘Wake up’.
This is perhaps a poignant and timely warning to the church in the comfortable West. I hope I am not being overly cynical but it seems we are heading into unprecedented times in this world but yet the church overall stumbles along in a weary daze.
Peter reminds us, in 1 Peter 1:13, to ‘prepare our minds for action’. This alludes to the rolling up of the outer garment so that one is able to run unfettered.
We are entering traumatic times and we need to be aware of what is coming down the railroad track.
Revelation 3:2 ‘Strengthen what remains’.
But yet there is always hope. The watchman on the tower can always blow the trumpet. We all have the ability to awaken to the shape of things. We can rebuild the walls.
Revelation 3:3 ‘Remember therefore, what you have received and heard’.
Even a dying ember can be fanned back into life. This advice is similar to that given to the Ephesians when they are told to remember the heights from which they have fallen. It is always worthwhile to record and remember points on our Christian journey where we have been strong. These pointers are like stone cairns built on the roads of pilgrimage. When we stray then they call us back to fervent zeal. Some keep journals of their journey and find them very helpful to refer back to.
Revelation 3:3 ‘I will come like a thief’.
This is not referring necessarily to the return of Christ Jesus but a reminder that as servants we need to be alert and ready for our master.
Revelation 3:4 ‘Yet you have a few people’.
No matter how weak the church becomes, there is always a faithful remnant.
‘Even a dying ember can be fanned back into life.’
Revelation 3:4 ‘They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy’.
The white clothes speak of the righteousness of Christ Jesus. What a delightful verse. To walk in fellowship and friendship with Christ, dressed in his righteousness and to be his faithful servant. What more could one ask for?
This verse takes me back to Genesis before the Fall when Adam and Eve would walk in the cool of the evening with God in the Garden of Eden.
Mounce finds an allusion to the itinerant ministry of Jesus with the disciples walking through Galilee. One can only imagine the conversations and camaraderie as they walked together through the corn fields.
Revelation 3:5 ‘I will never blot out his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before my father and his angels’.
The Book of Life features in Revelation 20:12 and we will look at this further then but it is good to know that those of us who have received Christ Jesus as our Lord have been included and that Jesus intercedes for us.
Wilcock makes a very helpful comment here. The letter begins with Jesus holding the seven spirits of God, which is the Holy Spirit, and the seven stars which are the angelic representation of the churches. He asserts that the Holy Spirit is revealing the true nature of this church but also that he has the power to transform the church. (11)
Wilcock concludes therefore that: ‘Christ has in his hands both the needy church and the life-giving Spirit. He can bring the two together, not only to diagnose but also to revive the dead. And we may be sure that if Sardis remembers and heeds and repents, then they will be revived’.
The Church in Philadelphia
Philadelphia was a prosperous city that was known as ‘the gateway to the East’. It was the centre of missionary activity promoting the Hellenistic way of life. The city suffered earthquakes from time to time. The church was small but in good shape and there is no mention of the false teachings within that have blighted the previous churches. It was well-known for its wine production.
Revelation 3:7 ‘These are the words of him who is holy and true. What he opens no-one can shut and what he shuts no-one can open’.
Jesus is not capricious. He is in command and what he promises will come to be. He is going to pour praise and promise upon this small church and his words will be reliable and trustworthy.
Revelation 3:7 ‘who holds the key of David’.
Eliakim was a foreshadow of Christ Jesus. He was made custodian of the household of David and given the authority to open or close the doors of the treasury which represents the kingdom, the holy city and the temple of God.
Isaiah 22:22 ‘I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David, what he opens no-one can shut and what he shuts no-one can open.’
Christ Jesus has sovereign control of who may enter the Kingdom. He willingly gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, and hence the Church, to preach the gospel to a fallen world and rescue the lost.
The keys of the kingdom of heaven have been given to the Church. We have the awesome responsibility of preaching the gospel and bringing lost souls through into the kingdom. Whoever ignores us ignores Jesus.
Revelation 3:8 ‘See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut’.
Some have thought this refers to more opportunities, especially as regards missionary work. Others prefer thinking of a deeper relationship with God through prayer.
Paul writes of open doors of opportunity in 1Corinthians 16:8 ‘But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.’
In brief: the church has been given the authority and opportunity to reach out and share the gospel, opening the doors that others may enter the kingdom of God.
Revelation 3:8 ‘I know you have little strength’.
This may sound like a criticism at first but although this church may be weak it was drawing on the strength of the Lord. Blessed are the poor in spirit who achieve all things by relying on His strength.
Revelation 3:9 ‘Yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name’.
This reliance on the strength of the Lord has kept them strong and faithful.
Revelation 3:9 ‘I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you’.
This verse is not as sinister as some have made out. In any religion there are those with a genuine faith and those with a sham pretence of faith.
Beale comments: ‘The mention of Jewish slander or blasphemy suggests that Jews, jealous of the inroads Christianity was making, may have informed on the Christians to the Roman authorities. Until the latter part of the first century, Christianity enjoyed a degree of protection under the umbrella of Judaism, which was an acceptable religion to Rome. The Jews were not forced to worship Caesar as a god, but were allowed to make sacrifices in honour of emperors as rulers and not as gods. But after the Neronian persecution Christianity was increasingly seen as distinct from Judaism and ceased to enjoy protection under its umbrella.’ (12)
Revelation 3:10 ‘Since you have kept my command to endure patiently’.
Once again we come across this virtue of patient endurance. When the tides of difficulty turn against us then some will fall away but blessed are those who keep to the path and press on.
Matthew 24:12 ‘Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.’
Revelation 3:10 ‘I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth’.
This is a well-known verse that has been well-debated! Some teach that Christ Jesus will rapture the church before the tribulation but most teach that Jesus will keep and nurture us through the coming tribulations.
Revelation 3:11 ‘I am coming soon’.
These are such precious words and especially to those going through trials. If we understand these words from an eternal heavenly perspective then Jesus will return soon, chronologically speaking. We can also understand that his return will be a sudden event that we need to prepare for. Either way, it is an encouragement that our earthly tribulations are temporary and transient.
Revelation 3:11 ‘Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown’.
There is a worthy point to be made here. The enemy will try to convince us of our unworthiness. We have to remember that in Christ Jesus we have been sealed by his righteousness. We have nothing to prove or achieve. We can rest in his power and authority.
Remember that the enemy is like a prowling lion, roaring at us, trying to catch us off guard and convince us that we are unworthy. We must resist him and stand firm in our faith. 1Peter 5:8
The enemy will constantly fire arrows of doubt as regards our worthiness in Christ Jesus. We must raise our shields of faith.
Ephesians 6:16 ‘In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.’
‘When the tides of difficulty turn against us
then some will fall away but blessed are those
who keep to the path and press on.‘
Revelation 3:12 ‘I will make a pillar in the temple of my God’.
Wilcock catches it wonderfully as ever when he writes: ‘this church of little power will be established as an immovable pillar in temple of the heavenly Jerusalem’. (13)
Mounce comments that: ‘To the city that had experienced devastating earthquakes that caused people to flee into the countryside and establish temporary dwellings, the promise of permanence within the New Jerusalem would have a special meaning.’ (14)
Revelation 3:12 ‘ I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will write on him my new name’.
The church of Philadelphia will be blessed three times. The writing of the names speaks of inclusion. They will be included within the temple of God, they will be an essential part and they will never leave the temple ever.
The writing of the name of God upon us speaks of Jesus bringing us into a new relationship with the Father. It stands in sharp contrast to the infamous ‘mark of the beast’ that the enemy will seek to tag us with, as described in Revelation 13:16.
The writing of the name of the city of God speaks of our inclusion in the New Jerusalem.
Revelation 21:2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God.
And lastly, Jesus will write upon us his new name and this speaks, once again, of us entering into a new and deeper relationship with Jesus. To make pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem and stand in the heavenly courts, to stand in his very presence, will be an awesome reality.
Revelation 19:12a ‘He has a name written on him that no-one knows but himself.’
In the verse Revelation 3:10 ‘I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth’, the word ‘keep’ is translated from the word ‘tereo.’
This same word, ‘tereo’ is used in John 17:15 ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect (‘tereo’) them from the evil one.’
This word is also used in John 17:12 ‘While I was with them I protected (‘tereo’) them and kept them safe by that name that you gave me.’
Putting this together, we can determine tha Jesus will not keep us out of the tribulation but rather he will keep us as we traverse this difficult period of time.
The Church in Laodicea
Laodicea was a rich commercial centre with an affluent society. It held a prominent banking sector, a textile industry and was famous for the manufacture of an eye ointment which makes the words of this letter uncomfortably apt.
It suffered from a history of earthquakes. It was rebuilt in 250 BC by Antiochus 11 who named the city after his wife Laodice. The city succumbed to earthquake once more in 62AD. It is worth noting that its inherent wealth meant that it was able to rebuild itself without financial help from Rome. It was self-sufficient.
Some suggest that the name breaks down into ‘laos’ which means ‘the people’ and ‘dicea’ which means ‘rule’ which would possibly allude to the church being dependent upon its own rulings and natural strength rather than that of God. Possibly.
The letter to the church of Laodicea contains harsh criticisms but yet still holds out hope. Inevitably, comparisons have been made with the Laodician church and the present-day churches of the affluent West and although one must beware of generalisations it is no doubt a comparison worth making.
Revelation 3:14 ‘These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation’.
A reminder to those living in such wealth of the riches of the one true God
Jesus asks much of his followers but he has the right to do so since he was the faithful witness himself. He could easily have settled for an easy life in Nazareth but he was obedient to the calling of his Father, even though it led to the cross, and he calls us to be obedient too!
Philippians 2:8 ‘And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even death on the cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
Revelation 3:15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth’.
Harsh words indeed! The water-supply for the city was drawn from hot springs some distance away and by the time the water arrived it was lukewarm. How easy it is to be caught up with the attractions and busyness of life and for our fervour and zeal to ebb away until we are just going through the motions of Christian life.
The church that loses its fire and prophetic edge will blend in better with the society around but will lose the pleasure of the Amen, the ruler of the creation.
Mounce points out, quoting Rudwick and Green, that the lukewarm water had neither the healing benefits of the hot waters of Hierapolis nor the cold refreshing waters of Colossae. He concludes then that the waters of Laodicea provided neither refreshment for the spiritually weary nor healing for the spiritually sick.’
‘The letter to the church of Laodicea
contains harsh criticisms
but yet still holds out hope.‘
Revelation 3:17 ‘You say ‘I am rich. I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’.
Oh, how foolish we can be in our thinking! The modern-day church in the West, with its magnificent buildings, training programmes, music bands and techno-colour presentations are all susceptible to trusting in their own strengths.
Please note that this was written before Covid19!
As individuals we can grow within a church and perhaps gain position and status and the praise of men. We can pepper our conversation with pious words of just how little we are and how great God is. But within our inner hearts is growing a self-dependency on our own strengths. We constantly need to cry to God that he keeps us pure. God has his ways and means of keeping us pure, often through failure after failure, so that our independent spirit is broken and we genuinely begin to live in his strength rather than our own.
The church that loses its fire and prophetic edge will blend in better with the society around but will lose the pleasure of the Amen, the ruler of the creation.’
Revelation 3:17 ‘But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked’.
Remember that Laodicea was famous for its banking, textiles and eye-ointments and so these words would have cut to the chase.
But the truth is that we are all wretched and blind without the strength of Christ! We may inwardly boast of all our achievements and qualifications. But by ourselves we can produce nothing but hot air. It can be a painful process but we need to have the blinkers taken from our eyes that we may see our true nature outside of the providence of Christ.
Brokenness is always the first step towards glory.
Revelation 3:18 ‘I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich’.
There was plenty of material wealth to be found in Laodicea. But spiritual wealth can only be found through our relationship with Jesus. We are called to live without compromising our Christian values even though these will sometimes bring criticism and mockery and, in extreme cases, persecution.
Peter, in 1Peter 1:7 wrote: ‘These (trials) have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The Christian life has an element of sadness woven into its fabric. Our faith may often offend those closest to us. Family members, friends and work colleagues may all misunderstand and turn against us and they may face their judgement and derision. Such is the price of carrying the cross of Christ.
I hasten to repeat though that we are not called to be deliberately antagonistic but rather that we should seek to live in peace with all men.
There is an inner richness in those who have laid aside their lives and set themselves to the task of carrying the cross.
Revelation 3:18 ‘and white clothes to wear so that you can cover your shameful nakedness’.
These words are aimed at the self-righteous Christians who pride themselves on their upright and moral standing in society. Their inbuilt self-strength makes sure that they obey all the rules and regulations in the eyes of others.
Jesus looks rather to the ones who know their inner weakness and who have come to trust in Christ’s righteousness flowing through them to keep them holy.
Zechariah 3:3 ‘Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin and I will put rich garments on you. Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head. So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.’
Revelation 3:18 ‘and salve to put on your eyes so that you can see’.
This verse works two ways. First we need to see our own inner condition without Christ. And then we need to see the brilliance of the glory of God. When the two come together then we are in a good place.
Revelation 3:19 ‘Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline’.
This has been a letter of tough love so far. There is a saying that Christ loves us so much that he accepts us as we are but also he loves us so much that he will not allow us to remain as we are.
The Book of Hebrews captures it well: ‘God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’. Hebrews 12:10
Wilcock writes thoughtfully: ‘For the sake of this disastrous church, Jesus presents himself as …the origin of God’s creation, the one who is able to go right down into the chaotic abyss of Laodicea’s failure and make her anew, as he once made the world’. (16)
There is an inner richness in those
who have laid aside their lives
and set themselves to the task of carrying the cross.
Revelation 3:20 ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me’.
Such delightful words! Morris describes it as: ‘a note of tender pleading’. He adds: ‘It all forms a remarkably tender appeal to a church far gone from its rightful state’.
These words have been used, down the generations, unashamedly, by the evangelist to bring souls into the kingdom. Forgiveness and mercy is free to anyone who will turn from their selfish ways and open the door to Christ.
These words though are relevant to each one of as we pass through the seasons of our lives. We will all know what it is to become preoccupied with our work or enticed by the allures of the world.
But Christ gently calls to us. And if we respond, finding that quiet moment, that time when we are set apart, then we will know the joy of his presence once more.
To share a meal with another has always represented deep fellowship.
Revelation 3:21 ‘To him who overcomes I will give the right to sit with me on my throne just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne’.
After such a harsh and searching beginning to the letter addressed to this failing church, Christ now appeals to the individual within the church with words of promise. If they are prepared to turn away from the allure of affluence and self-righteousness then great will be their reward. Just as Christ overcame by faithfully carrying the cross, we too are called to make the same journey into glory.
Mike Thompson Jan 2017
11 Michael Wilcock Message of Revelation location 604
12 G K Beale Revelation location 1310
13 Michael Wilcock Message of Revelation location 636
14 Robert Mounce Revelation 2679
15 Robert Mounce Revelation 2782
16 Michael Wilcock Message of Revelation location 662